where it doesn't rain but it pours and the Dunkirk spirit is alive and kicking
We've led a charmed festival life this year.
Myself and my good lady/assistant photographer have been to festivals large and small since the start of spring and the weather has been clement at the least.
Judging by the weather forecast before Beautiful Days down in Devon that was about to change. We packed wet weather gear, extra socks and the obligatory beer and wine in non-glass containers and schlepped off to see what was what.
The site for BD, the impressive Escot Park is dead easy to get to being a short pony trot away from the main road and unlike many of the larger festivals you're not diverted 30 miles in the wrong direction just to get you in the right gate.
First impressions are usually a good indication and when we got to the site we knew we were in the West Country. The stewards and box office staff were laid back and smiling (what did they know) and we were given the instruction to 'go in that field and camp where you want'. Something was wrong,very wrong.
Feeling slightly uneasy we found a spot and pitched the tent with no sign of jackbooted security patrolling the perimeter and telling us we couldn't use yellow tent pegs 'becauseitsagainstregulationsitsmorethanmyjobsworthinit'.
Being a reasonable sized site, it's not a massive walk to and from the camping grounds and pitching too late to get a photo pass we decided just to wander round and see what could be seen.
As we surveyed the site we happened upon The Unthanks in the big top and were shocked to find that the beer was reasonably priced. This couldn't be right. It was a reasonableness that extended generally to the food vendors and there was a fair variety for us to sample before catching the remarkable Seth Lakeman. I'd seen Seth just the week before at Boomtown so it was good to see whether my initial thoughts were still valid.
Indeed they were as Lakeman, incredibly popliar down this neck of the woods produced a terrific set and packed the big top tent.
Another wander to orientate ourselves to the site and Leftfield appeared on the main stage. Now our regular reader will know my aversion to people with laptops so, knowing Leftfield's music I was heartened to see a drum kit and guitars nshit being wheeled onto the stage.
Once the music started I was then disheartened to find that Leftfield were in fact using said guitars ndrumsnshit to simulate the sound of a bloke playing a laptop. Once you've heard two songs you've heard them all so we buggered off to the tent that would provide the biggest contrast.
Billy Bragg is apparently a left wing firebrand/loony/god, depending upon which paper you read.
He's also a tent filler of an artist with good reason. Bragg's ability to identify the absurdities of life in-the-form-of-a-song and his easy manner with the audience meant that once again the big top was packed with punters staying through the whole set and the deserved encores to hear his most excellent real world tunes.
Experience has it's value and Bragg's easy, self deprecating style wins most people over who see him, even if they don't become die hard fans of his music.
Saturday's forecast was a bag of mixed delights and the day moved swiftly between hot and sunny and gobbing it down. Today was to be a day of compromise as there were a few clashes that I'd have to mentally deal with. Photo pass in hand I made my way round the site looking for people to annoy/photograph.
Al particularly enjoyed Stick in the wheel, whereas my day started once Terrorvision hit the main stage.
Energy, energy energy mixed with powerful indie rock turned out to be my favourite performance of the weekend. Frontman Tony Wright must have had an extra shredded wheat that day and best moment was when the guys were joined by a little lad(James?) on stage with his toy guitar and he proceeded to guest for a couple of songs.
We toddled off to explore and found food, more beer and The oh hellos. A band that I've liked for a while through a set of curious circumstances, it was great to see they'd made the Atlantic crossing for a bit of an old tour. I liked the band a lot live even though I wasn't enamoured by the lack of pit door or indeed the 1 candlepower lighting.
At which point were off to the main stage for The Proclaimers. You may get the impression that we do a lot of walking at a festival and you may be right. It works off the beer and burgers.
Craig and Charlie are again a favourite of mine and were certainly one of the reasons I wanted to catch Beautiful Days. An enjoyable performance was only slightly marred by the fact that the rain was by this time running down the front of the stage roof into the pit and down the neck of my waterproof, which the missus found hilarious.
Anyway back to the music. Good. All their hits were sung lustily to by the crowd whether they knew the words or not and there were a couple in there that I didn't expect. Hearing the chaps do 'Jean' in the pissing down rain lightened my mood immensely.
The rain stayed (and got a bit harder) to test the die hard fans of James. The little flecks you can see on the images are in fact huge great big raindrops that again turned the neck of my coat into one of those cold waterfalls you only find in Wales.
On the plus side James were indeed very good and, although they very rarely do 'sit down' they did indeed sit down and do sit down. As a treat for us because we were wet and didn't care. I miss James.
The weather forecast said that Sunday would be a day of sun and the occasional shower. It was half right as it was a day of the occasional shower interspersed with gobbing downpours.
It was till warm though so we weren't that bothered and had some lovely tea, then caught some lovely bands and photographed some lovely people.
In one of the rare breaks in the weather I shot 'oh my God it's the church'. Think evangelistic Cuban Brothers and you'll be somewhere near.
Soulish disco tunes interspersed with some near the knuckle jokery and fun and what can only be described as frolics. A proper gift for photographers, especially if you haven't done particularly well and need some decent images to make it all worthwhile. I stuck around for the whole set and loved them. Day made.
Southampton based Lounge Kittens helped provide shelter away from the increasing precipitation and although they performed under a really weird coloured LED stage light which was a pig to colour balance they were a really good fun band.
The kittens accidentally started their set with the song that they were going to finish with and that was their sort of soundcheck. So we got to hear a great Beautiful Days medley, twice. Witty and intelligent, they combine a sort of Andrews sisters swing with a touch of the Winehouse/Emerald. Another band that are particularly good with the crowd interaction they were never boring whether you liked their sound or not.
I wanted to check out Revelation Roots to see if they were as good as I thought and they weren't, they were better. Proper roots with a great front pairing of Shine and Rosina, you could tell the quality of the whole band from the get go. I'd recommend finding them on a playbill near you.
So we sat under a tree, sipping another nice tea from a tin shack and munching on some lovely and not overpriced food listening to Ibibio Sound Machine on the main stage and reflecting on one of the most chilled festivals around.
Being British the punters were determined to enjoy themselves whatever the weather and as the images show dressing up makes everyone smile. Finding a family all dressed as The Beastie Boys was a particularly surreal experience.
Finding the balance between giving people enough amenity and not becoming too commercial must be a massively difficult task and I reckon that on the whole the team behind BD have achieved.
The Oxfam stewards were to a man and woman chilled and helpful, security was there but fairly light handed and the whole event had a proper West Country chilled feel.
The crowd were in a great mood and the acts were an excellent mix of well known names and new and upcoming bands.
Without doubt Beautiful Days have it nailed.